“You’re from the TV. You’re Jessica Carmichael,” he said, lifting the candle from the table and holding it towards my face. “Off the news, right?” he said, his voice eager, face contorting as he leant further and further over the table to get a better look.
Sinking back into the chair I let my hands fall as the air sighed from my chest.
“Oh my god. I’ve never met anyone famous before and you’re in my house.”
I shook my head.
“You are, you are. I watch the news every day. I see you there in London interviewing all those important people.”
Another sigh escaped from my chest.
“Yes, I’m Jess Carmichael,” I said not hiding the resignation from my voice as I shook my head.
Blind to my response, he let the candle back to the table and pushed his hand back out with a great smile on the right side of his face as he waited with his hand offered mid air. When it seemed he would stand there forever if I didn’t respond, I shook his hand with a weak grip.
“We’ve done this already, you’re Ryan, I’m Jess.”
“Jessica Carmichael, yes,” he said, gripping my hand with a great enthusiasm. “I can so see it now.” He sat back in the seat, hovering on the edge, leaning forward, edging his arm further across the table. “So all this,” he said his eyebrows raising and lowering. “It’s a TV show, right?” He looked around the room as if searching for hidden cameras or waiting for a TV crew to burst through the doorway. “No wonder you look so glamorous for this time of night.”
I peered down to the dirt, the creases covering my jacket and looked back up with a raised eyebrow. Maybe this guy wasn’t the full biscuit.
“Those things,” he continued. “I should have known. How did you do it?” he said standing, not waiting for a reply, walking past me and reaching up to a cupboard just at my back. “You like whiskey?” he said, but before I could reply. “Oh shit, can you drink on the job?” he said, his face widening as if I’d taken offence.
“I’m not on the job,” I replied and must have seen the curl of my lip as he reached for another bottle.
“Of course you can, you’re not a copper. Vodka?” he nodded, his smile wide again as I replied with a reluctant nod.
“If only,” I said, but he ignored my words, pouring a slug of the clear spirit into my empty glass.
“I mean,” he said before having to catch his breath while he poured a good few fingers into another glass grabbed from the drainer. “The make up is amazing and the smell, oh my god, how did they get it so realistic? Made my stomach turn.”
“It’s real,” I said letting the glass down, but he carried on talking like I hadn’t spoken.
“And you picked me,” he said, his smile beaming wider than ever. I sighed again turning down to the table as I slowly shook my head.
“It’s real,” I said, letting the words build in volume. I looked up to see he’d stopped talking, his eyes watching as my head rose, but he burst into laughter as our eyes met.
“You’re good. You’re so good,” he said, taking another look around the room. “So when do they burst in to spring the surprise? Are there camera’s hidden all around this place? I hope I haven’t ruined this for anything?”
“Listen,” I said and he was about to speak again, but I stood up from my seat and slapped my hand down on the table sending the glasses jumping into the air. As the glasses landed without spilling, he paused, the colour draining from his face as the candles flickered. “It’s real. It’s fucking real,” I shouted watching his smile fall.
“I’m sorry,” he said, his smile creeping back, but not quite building to its full strength. Anger boiled in my chest. I grabbed the glass and downed the liquid, revelling in the sting as I wiped the back of my hand, letting out a great relief of air. He looked on, his uncertainty growing as the smile sunk. He looked around the room, searching again. I’d had all I could take and slapped the table, sending both glasses toppling as they landed.
“On Christmas Day I had a call,” I said, my voice quiet, but forceful. “My ex called me. She was in trouble.” I did my best to ignore the twitch of his eyebrows. “I raced here to find she’d been imprisoned in the middle of a quarantine zone. They held me too, the government. They conducted tests on me and on my camera team. They’re both dead and I barely survived to escape with Toni. There were so many people infected, dying and coming back to life. We were attacked from all sides. We nearly died. This thing is real and if you still don’t get, step outside and it won’t be long before you’re surrounded. Let one of them, let all of them bite into your flesh, then you’ll know how fucking real this is.” I drew a deep breath and held my lungs full, silently congratulating myself on holding it together.
He didn’t speak, stared on and I let him. I gave his mind time to get to grips with what I’d just said, with my story. The first time I’d told anyone. The first time I’d opened up. The first time I’d told anyone anything about me.
I watched the excitement slowly grow on his lips, my chest rising into my mouth, breath constricting with each moment.
“You deserve a fucking Oscar. Where’s Toni now?” he said. I hated the way he exaggerated her name like she wasn’t real, like she was part of a lie. I moved around the table, careful to place my feet where I could see. I leant toward him.
“I shot her,” I said, letting the alcohol breath pour out before I stepped back.
His smile fell, but not completely, his eyebrows twitching.
“We had to run. We had to run for our lives, but still those things found us. They’re everywhere. We got split up and some fat fuck tied me to a bed and almost raped me.” I could no longer see the detail in his face, the rage pumping blood so fast in my head. I took another step back. “Toni rescued me, but then turned me over. I killed her trying to escape. It was an accident, but it was my finger pulling the trigger,” I said, raising my palms out towards him. “Does that deserve a fucking Oscar?” I said.
Part of me wanted him to smile. Part of me wanted him to give me a way out, to give a release to my rage.
His smile came and he shook his head as he saw the gun in my hand as it raised. He saw it as I did, just as I realised I’d picked its weight from the table as I’d passed. The smile fell with each angle of the gun rising in his direction.
“If this is a performance, if this is a show, if this is entertainment, this bullet won’t kill you.”
I raised my eyebrows, his smile no longer there, but still he couldn’t help but flinch a look around the room.
I pulled the trigger.
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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.
Not read Season One? Here it is.